Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M. R. James

9780271077727: Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M. R. James
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Montague Rhodes James authored some of the most highly regarded ghost stories of all time-classics such as "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" that have been adapted many times over for radio and television and have never gone out of print. But while James is best known as a fiction writer and storyteller, he was also a provost of King's College, Cambridge, and Eton College, and a legendary and influential scholar whose pioneering work in the study of biblical texts and medieval manuscripts, art, and architecture is still relevant today. In Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M. R. James, Patrick J. Murphy argues that these twin careers are inextricably linked. James's research not only informed his fiction but also reflected his anxieties about the nature of academic life and explored the delicate divide between professional, university men and erratic hobbyists or antiquaries. Murphy shows how detailed attention to the scholarly inspirations behind James's fiction provides considerable insight into a formative moment in medieval studies, as well as into James's methods as a master stylist of understated horror. During his life, James often claimed that his stories were mere entertainments-pleasing distractions from a life largely defined by academic discipline and restraint-and readers over the years have been content to take him at his word. This intriguing volume, however, convincingly proves otherwise.

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"Any Jamesian will be surprised at how much new light Murphy casts on these eerie tales of revenants and demons."

--Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"Demonstrates a kind of scholarly curiosity that one hopes M. R. James himself would have approved."

--A. S. G. Edwards, Times Literary Supplement

"Murphy's interesting book shows that perhaps M.R. James' stories were more than just idle pieces of entertainment."

--John DeNardo, Kirkus Reviews

"For anyone interested in James, the scholar, this book is an essential read; it presents much that is new, is fascinating throughout, and offers perceptive analysis of James's unparalleled wisdom in the field."

--Peter Bell, Ghosts & Scholars M. R. James Newsletter

"This book is a pleasure to read: beautifully written and presented. It is never less than thoroughly eloquent."

--David Matthews, Review of English Studies

"In this thorough, eloquent, and convincing study, Patrick Murphy sheds important new light on one of the most renowned medievalists of the early twentieth century and on the means by which the Middle Ages continue to remake, and be remade by, popular culture."

--Karl Fugelso, editor of the journal Studies in Medievalism

"This book goes further than any other in making sense of M. R. James's dual identity as a medieval scholar and a ghost-story writer. In elucidating some of the hidden meanings in James's classic ghost stories, Patrick Murphy makes ingenious connections between antiquarian fiction and the emergence of medieval studies in the early twentieth century."

--Shane McCorristine, author of The Hand of Glory: Folklore, Crime, and Fiction

"The very best part of this book is the way in which both authors--Patrick Murphy and M. R. James--unravel puzzles that others have avoided or perhaps not even recognized as significant. Readers will admire the scholarship behind the solving of these puzzles and will also take great pleasure in following Murphy's line of reasoning, which reveals what the subtle scholar-storyteller James is after. Reading this book is like following the adventures of those on a quest, or the unraveling of clues in a really good mystery novel."

--Marijane Osborn, coauthor of Beowulf: A Likeness

"There are some seminal studies that have shed light on the genesis and development of medieval studies: Ulrich Wyss's work on Jacob Grimm, Tom Shippey's on J. R. R. Tolkien, and Michelle Warren's on Joseph Bédier. Patrick Murphy's book completes these other studies by telling the story of M. R. James, a fascinating medievalist forefather working at the exact moment of transition from English antiquarianism and extra-academic medievalist enthusiasms to a medieval studies almost entirely exclusive of writers, artists, and musicians. Murphy's meticulously researched narrative provides ample proof that both enterprises, the creative and the scholarly reception of medieval culture, should not be viewed as mutually exclusive but richly symbiotic."

--Richard Utz, president, International Society for the Study of the History of Medievalism

"Patrick Murphy's deeply researched and wittily written book puts James's work in the context of the development of medieval studies and, more broadly, an academic culture in transition and the great loss and unimaginable changes wrought by the Great War. By delineating the entanglement of various competing timelines--antiquarian, professional, and institutional, for example--in James's endeavors, Murphy compellingly illuminates a profound disquiet haunting this liminal figure and his famous ghostly tales."

--Carolyn Dinshaw, author of How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time

About the Author:

Patrick J. Murphy is Associate Professor of English at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and the author of Unriddling the Exeter Riddles, also published by Penn State University Press.

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